A newly formalized mentoring program will give Wyss researchers greater access to professionals with diverse entrepreneurial experiences to produce better scientific founders
By Jessica Leff
Wyss researchers specialize in developing disruptive, transformative innovations that will improve healthcare and create a more sustainable world. But, to have near-term impact, these scientists must also possess an entrepreneurial spirit and a determination to overcome challenges they may face when commercializing their technologies. They must think strategically and consider the views of key stakeholders throughout the whole development pipeline. To create effective leaders who can navigate this complex ecosystem, the Wyss Institute has committed to fostering entrepreneurship, and created its mentorship program, the Wyss Mentor Hive, which brings in entrepreneurship experts with diverse specialties to guide future Wyss startup founders.
What is the Mentor Hive?
Mentorship is vital to successful entrepreneurship. In fact, 93% of small businesses believe that a mentor will contribute to their success, and small businesses with mentors have greater longevity.
The Wyss Mentor Hive (The Hive) was formed to offer researchers access to mentors at all stages of their work. With strong commitment to the Wyss’ innovation community, mentors work closely with Wyss entrepreneurial teams toward their goals of startup formation and technology commercialization.
Wyss Business Development Director and leader of The Hive, Ally Chang, Ph.D., M.B.A., is committed to expanding the entrepreneurial resources available to members of the community. “With The Hive, mentors can work with research teams in a flexible way,” said Chang. “Mentors and researchers can build relationships based on common interests, the mentor’s expertise, and the team’s needs. I’m excited to add The Hive to our roster of entrepreneurial resources.”
In addition to The Hive, she’s built out a robust internal wiki as a resource for entrepreneurial information, hosted an inaugural business event series, and helps run the Lumineers program, an initiative that recognizes, celebrates, and maintains relationships with Wyss alumni who have left the Institute to commercialize Wyss technology via startups.
Introducing the mentors
The present Hive is made up of six members with diverse sets of experiences and areas of expertise. Mark Currie, Ph.D. is the President/Founder and CSO of a Enversa Bio. Marnie Hoolahan, M.B.A is the Managing Director of The NemetzGroup, a life sciences commercial and strategy advisory firm. Emilia Javorsky, M.D. is a physician-scientist working on the invention, development, and translation of medical technologies. Neal Muni, M.D., MSPH is the Founder and Managing Director of RTK Group, a biopharmaceutical advisory and investment practice, and former CEO of Azurity Pharmaceuticals, and an Associate Physician and Instructor in medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School. Steve Rosen, Ph.D., is currently retired after a 35-year-long career in the medical device and pharmaceutical fields. Hank Wu is a serial entrepreneur in digital health and an advisory board member.
Wisdom to impart
Many of the mentors have successfully guided scientific technologies from the lab to the market and are excited to share the tricks of the trade to help Wyss researchers avoid common mistakes, like not considering the end-user or communicating in a way that’s too technical. They are also well aware of the roadblocks researchers will face and want to teach teams how to overcome them. “Each time I’ve experienced a startup successfully progressing through the steps of its life cycle, the journey has been humbling and such a blast, especially in light of the complex interactions of the healthcare system, the desire to create the best product-market fit, and the inherent challenges that come with scaling up a new platform technology, therapeutic area, or team,” said Wu, whose digital therapeutic startup Luminopia just gained one of the first Food and Drug Administration approvals in the area of neuro-visual disorders. “It will be a privilege to share and apply what I’ve learned with the Wyss teams and help bring Wyss technologies to everyday people.”
Mentors have learned other soft skills they plan to pass on to Wyss teams. Commercializing a technology is a long process, so they want to prepare the researchers for the highs and lows along the way. “It takes real discipline and patience. Even though we’re trying to do things in a highly urgent manner, commercializing a technology is a long-term effort,” explained Currie, who, in addition to his experience leading biopharma companies, is an accomplished scientist in his own right with over 150 peer-reviewed publications and numerous patents under his belt. “Pacing, not only for the inventor but also the pace at which the team will advance their work, is something I’d like to coach the Wyss teams on how to do.”
With experience also comes practical knowledge, such as realizing who to talk to at which stage of the innovation process and being able to navigate regulatory requirements. Mentors can connect the teams they work with to helpful contacts or give them ideas about ways to find funding.
Mentees will learn it’s never too early to think about commercialization, because that sets teams up for success down the road. “To be able to infuse that later-stage thinking, where you’re focused on the end-user and the value proposition, earlier in the process, will turn Wyss scientists into future leaders who can transition to industry,” explained Hoolahan, who specializes in biopharma commercialization strategy.
Mentors will also provide guidance to research teams on the best way to pitch their ideas/business concepts to key stakeholders. Rosen, who has focused on innovation at various companies in the medical device and pharmaceutical fields such as Johnson and Johnson, Roche Diagnostics, and Becton, Dickinson, and Company, while also starting a management consulting firm, explained, “Sometimes a technology doesn’t get funding because of the way it’s presented.” Hoolahan had a tip to combat this problem: “Keep communication simple.”
Joining the Wyss Community
Members of The Hive typically were introduced to the Institute through their extended networks and all of them identify with the Wyss’ goal of commercializing technologies related to healthcare and sustainability. “The idea of the ideation, the refinement, the validation, and the optimization of a technology so it is ready for commercialization really resonates with me, because I truly believe that to successfully translate science you need to have that as part of your mindset from the inception of the project,” said Javorsky, who founded Sundaily, a consumer health company, and brought it from its inception to its acquisition. “Seeing how this process had evolved as the core of the Wyss’ thinking and innovative model excited me.”
The quality of science at the Institute also impressed the mentors. “The thing about the Wyss that attracted me most was the novel, disruptive, groundbreaking technology and the emphasis on having real-world impact to deliver better healthcare and positive outcomes for people,” said Muni, who spent 20 years in senior roles across the entire life sciences value chain.
As the mentors have become more involved, they’ve relished the opportunity to dive deeper into the Wyss’ research and approach to technology innovation that aims to improve human health and sustain the environment. “Since joining The Hive, I’ve gotten even more excited about the Wyss. The Institute is full of great people doing a lot of interesting things, and what they’re doing represents an unmet need in society,” said Rosen.
Similarly, Hoolahan’s initial enthusiasm only grew as she became more involved: “I’ve been continuously impressed with the Institute as I’ve gained more exposure. It promotes creativity and outside-the-box thinking and is not structured in a way that’s formulaic and rigid. The Wyss has this component of being futuristic with fast-paced forward thinking to make sure it’s ahead of the rest of the world.”
Excitedly molding future scientific entrepreneurs
As the mentors take on their new roles, they’re enthusiastic about the possibilities of what’s to come. All the mentors described themselves as lifelong learners, and plan to use this as an opportunity not only to impart their wisdom, but to gain knowledge from the researchers that they can use in their own careers.
Just like the scientists, the mentors are passionate about translating beneficial technologies. They recognize that healthcare and sustainability are two areas that urgently need innovation and positive change. Javorsky expressed, “I believe as scientists and technologists we have a moral responsibility to ensure our work creates value and is used to advance humanity. Entrepreneurship is one of the most robust and effective tools we have to do that.”
Scientific entrepreneurs take calculated risks to create and commercialize technologies that bring their discoveries out of the lab to solve real-world problems. The Wyss enables scientific entrepreneurship to efficiently navigate those risks, and the six Hive members are thrilled to be a resource helping to shape the next generation. Muni explained, “To me, the fun of it is working with dedicated, talented, driven science professionals who aim to change the world.”